Thursday, September 1, 2011

Music Notations

The New York Times has an interesting article by a composer on notation. He gives as an example the piece I have chosen as the motto for my blog: "Belle, bonne, sage" by Baude Cordier. But at the beginning of the article he mentions a kind of maxim: "The score is not the music." Later on he says, "It seems quite obvious that no individual performance of, say, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is the entire work." Yes, quite true. I have long since accepted that there is no definitive recording of the Haydn quartets, or the Beethoven quartets or piano sonatas, or Chopin or anything. There are some very fine recordings, with important differences. There are also some not very good recordings.

But one example comes to mind from more recent history. The Beatles never felt the need to learn to use musical notation for two basic reasons. First of all, they were very creative and "wrote", that is to say, came up with, created, songs the way the rest of us eat breakfast. If they created a song that was so unmemorable that they couldn't remember how it went, well, no big loss. Second, from fairly early on they had access to recording studios and this is quite a good substitute for musical notation. But there is an interesting consequence to all this. There is indeed a score to all the Beatles' songs. It is the product of a quartet of transcribers who did the best they could to render the recordings into standard notation. But this score is even more than usual not the music! The music is the recording in the case of the Beatles. They created much of it in the studio and the recording is not only the music, it is THE definitive performance above all others. The recording IS the composition. In this rare case, a particular performance of a group of compositions is the work. Now, is it the entire work? In other words, does Frank Sinatra's cover of "Something" add to the composition or is it essentially complete in its original version?

Interesting question...

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